Hugo Eayrs

War Crimes in Afghanistan - not just a case of "Bad Eggs"

A report in Australia has just been released which indicts 25 SAS personnel in 39 acts of murder of civilians or prisoners of war in Afghanistan.

The government has disbanded one of four SAS squadrons and revoked 3,000 medals. In a murderous “warrior” culture, junior soldiers were encouraged by officers to kill innocents to “blood” themselves, and the patrol commanders who organised the killings covered the whole thing up.

The report has rightfully identified many structural problems but leaves the pervading military system that exists across the West (and most of the world) un-criticised.

So who is responsible for these horrific acts?

The report argues that the practice began as a more understandable attempt to cover up civilian deaths where operatives had a “legitimate reason” for engaging. Commentators have identified the failure of Australia to identify a strategic goal in Afghanistan other than “Improving relations with the USA”. Missions were often fighting in the “fog of war”, and personnel were very rarely allowed to rest due to resource constraints and strategic pressure.

In many cases, operatives were fighting ten rotations in a row, a practice promoted by the military’s tax deduction policy; which incentivised constant fighting and a “mercenary attitude” amongst the ranks for increased personal income.

Understandably, all of this would have increased the chance of bad behaviour on the part of the operatives.

But there was also an appalling lack of oversight from the government. The Australian government was infamous for being the least transparent and most tight-lipped when giving details, if any, to journalists during the Aghani war. The lack of significant domestic opposition to the war meant less pressure for improved oversight.

These are valid concerns that need to be addressed. But they are empty of any real teeth. It's clear there was a bloodthirsty culture that already existed in the SAS, not caused due to the rules of engagement in Afghanistan.

The report leaves itself unconcerned with the causes of this culture.

How did these bad eggs join the military in the first place? Why were they promoted into officer positions with so little oversight? Why did it take so long for the atrocities to come to light?

It is not by chance that there is a long, well-reported history of “tough play” from Australian soldiers overseas. Since East Timor in the 1990s, there have been strong allegations of brutality by Australian special forces.

And this is not unique to Australia - their allies in this war, including the UK, have had an unwillingness to address the acts of cruelty committed by their militaries.

The cause of this bloodthirsty culture begins in the exploitative nature of the prevailing military culture, including Britain’s.

The economic aspect of the exploitation of recruits is well recognised. Soldiers are mostly recruited from the poorer classes of society, where they fight simply to survive, rather than for any genuine belief in the moral goals of the conflict.

This exposes the moral exploitation of recruits for the mission for national defence. Who, when, and why to fight are political and moral choices, and the responsibility for those choices lies (mostly!) with politicians, military high command, and society in general. However, soldiers are forced to act out these decisions, and are then left unequipped to criticise them.

Recruits must simply consent to fight, with zero information provided as to who they might be fighting, why they are fighting them, and what might happen along the way. They are deliberately kept in the dark. Most recruits are not in a position to truly consider these dilemmas out of material necessity, poor education, or due to manipulative national propaganda.

Furthermore, the structure and training of the modern military deliberately indoctrinate recruits, which is then accepted by society as necessary for national defence.

The dehumanisation of recruits is key to military training. They are manipulated into losing empathy for any person which their commanders deem an enemy, and conditioned into accepting orders without question. Our recruits are deliberately mistreated by their training to develop bonds with their unit, and an adversarial view of those outside of it.

It is no wonder cruelty is so common in our militaries, because cruelty exists at the very foundation of them!

These were not just bad eggs. Yes, bad eggs need to be condemned. But the rot extends to the very core of our national defence structures. We must take responsibility for that, and act to stop it.

All of this is accepted by us as necessary; “it’s a shame, but it’s the best way of protecting ourselves”. If the purpose of our military is to protect our freedoms and way of life, then we are hypocrites to deny soldiers the same rights that we expect, and that they fight so tirelessly for.

Comments

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robldavidson

There is a good book that covers the likely psychological and social factors behind the abuses that were perpetrated by soldiers and other personal at the Abu Ghraib prison facility - the Lucifer Effect - [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The\_Lucifer\_Effect](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Lucifer_Effect)
The author, who was called in as an expert for those trials etc, was clear that while individuals do need to be held to account for their actions, it was also the system and the chiefs that had produced conditions where almost anyone would have been likely to commit similar atrocities. High stress and low supervision leads to bad behaviour which, when left unchecked, becomes predictably depraved. Add a hint of dehumanisation and you are guaranteed to see the 'horrors of war' every single time.
What is particularly worrying today is that the UK's Conservative government has effectively 'decriminalised torture' by making it almost impossible to prosecute cases that happen in military action overseas - [https://www.politicshome.com/thehouse/article/torture-has-been-illegal-in-the-uk-for-over-300-years-today-the-overseas-operations-bill-will-overturn-this](https://www.politicshome.com/thehouse/article/torture-has-been-illegal-in-the-uk-for-over-300-years-today-the-overseas-operations-bill-will-overturn-this)